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The Best of the Bunch: Defiance proves the lead in this season's pack of WWII films 

James Bond goes back in time.If we agree we go to movies in large part to be entertained, Defiance is a success. If further we

click to enlarge James Bond goes back in time.
  • James Bond goes back in time.
James Bond goes back in time.
If we agree we go to movies in large part to be entertained, Defiance is a success. If further we can agree we also go to be moved or educated, Defiance does that as well. Lastly, if we care about movie pedigrees (director, actors, cinematographer) Defiance scores again as a full-blooded thoroughbred. Director Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond, Legends of the Fall, Last Samurai) has a style and pace that are recognizable and satisfying. There are typically a few overly romantic moments in his films that are otherwise wonderful examples of story telling. His heroes thrive on long odds.

Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell. Directed by Edward Zwick.
Rated R.

Zwick also likes a broad canvas and he has one here. He has taken a true story about the Nazi persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe in the summer of 1941 and shaped it into a compelling film. In an effort to escape certain death, the Beilski brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Leiv Schreiber), and Asael (Jamie "Billy Elliot" Bell) are thrust into the role of saviors as they shelter a growing number of Jews in the forest they have known since childhood in Belarus.

What begins as their attempt to save some neighbors who survive an assault on the town grows rapidly into a camp of hundreds of Jews from all walks of life who have heard about their daring community. They become known as the Beilski Otriad.

Tuvia sets out to save a few villagers, and he is suddenly drawn into a leadership role. He is not a perfect hero; he has moments of ambivalence and inaction, but like the people he is trying to save, the dire circumstances bring out his best. "I would rather save one Jew than kill ten Nazis," he says at one point, putting his emphasis on saving lives as a strategy against the Nazis.

Watching this movie, you cannot ignore the irony created by cinematographer Eduardo Serra (Blood Diamond, Girl With the Pearl Earring): he makes beautiful what is grisly and desperate. Shot in lush forests in Lithuania, the film's atmosphere is further enhanced by award-winning composer James Newton Howard and the soaring violin of Joshua Bell. It serves to underscore the beauty in the group's unwillingness to lose their humanity and behave like their enemy.

It is easy to become desensitized to events both current and historic after being overexposed. And the Holocaust is such an event. But there are moments in this film that bring the horror of those lives affected into clear focus. Although not as emotionally debilitating as Schindler's List, we do come face to face with the madness of the Nazi era. And like that Steven Spielberg movie, it makes the fact the story is true all the more remarkable and reminds us horrors of the Holocaust bred heroes, as well as victims.

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